CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI
Soon after arriving in Germany, I realized that I would need to go shopping. My new house, while beautiful, lacked closets in the bedrooms and cabinets in the bathroom, which is pretty typical for German homes. I was actually a bit excited about needing to shop. This meant that I finally had a reason to go to an Ikea, which has several locations across Germany. Prior to moving overseas, I never lived close enough to an Ikea to visit one, but I always wanted to. Friends told me about displays that made you want to move right into the store and promises of leaving with everything you needed to make your own home look like a photo out of a catalog. So, I was up to this decorating and storage challenge. I didn’t realize, though, that enthusiasm may not be all you need to make it through your first Ikea shopping experience in a foreign country. Unfamiliarity with the process of how to actually purchase something at Ikea and an inability to read the German instructions could frustrate a new shopper enough that she runs to the in-store restaurant and gorges herself on those famous Swedish meatballs. So, a guide for the Ikea Newbie is needed.
If you have kids between the ages of 3-10, you may want to begin your shopping trip at the Småland if it is offered at the location you visit. It’s an awesome, supervised play area inside the store. You can sign your child(ren) in for up to one and half hours of FREE playtime while you shop. The first time we visited the store, my kids were hesitant to go into the Småland because they were worried about not speaking much German. By the end of our visit, though, they were requesting to go there even though they enjoyed the play stations conveniently located throughout the store. Roaming around a huge store trying to find the perfect under-the-sink cabinet for the guest bathroom quickly lost our kids’ interest. So, off to Småland they went during our second visit, and they loved it! The adults supervising the area knew enough English to make our kids comfortable, and the activities offered kept them occupied the entire time. Småland made the shopping trip more enjoyable for all of us.
Once the kids are safely deposited, you can turn your attention to tackling Ikea. Your first stop should be to one of the kiosks providing pieces of papers with columns on it. This paper is your key to buying large items. Since Ikea presents its products in displays showing how items could be used in the home, you don’t pick up large pieces as you wander through the store. They would be too bulky to carry around or push on a cart. Instead, you note what you want on the piece of paper (more information on how the paper magically turns into a bathroom cabinet later). This is where being familiar with Ikea and a bit of German comes in handy. I had no idea what to put on the paper during my first visit. So, I’m going to help you avoid my confusion (it was about this time in my shopping trip that the meatballs started to sound really good).
The piece of paper presents some columns that need to be filled in. The title of the first column is pretty obvious even if you don’t know German: Produktname/Artikelnummer. This is the column where you jot down the name and identifying number of the thing that you want. You can locate something’s name and number on a tag attached to the item. Most of the tags are white and red or white and yellow. The product name will be on the white part of the tag near the top. The product number will be on the red or yellow part. It is probably eight digits long. Once you locate the Produktname/Artikelnummer, you can fill it in with the handily provided Ikea pencil and pat yourself on the back for filling in the first column. Next, you can turn to the next three columns. The price goes in the “Preis” column. The price, like the product name, is on the white part of the label.
Now, look at the red section for the information needed to fill in the next two columns. There should be two boxes labeled “Regal” and “Fach” on the tag. The Regal is the row where the item can be found in the warehouse section of the store, and the Fach is the “pocket” or place in the row where the item is.
I know you must be thinking that I forgot about the yellow labels. I didn’t! The yellow labels don’t provide a Regal or Fach. This worried me at first and made the wine served in the restaurant seem like the perfect accompaniment to some meatballs, but the yellow label can be overcome. Large or fragile items that shoppers need help with are not shelved in the part of the warehouse that they have access to. Instead, you go up to the helpdesk in the warehouse area, provide an employee with the product name and number, and a sheet will be printed off for you that you can use to pay for the item. The item can then be collected at customer service desk just past the check-out lanes. There, wine and meatballs have been delayed!
Plenty of small items will catch your eye as you go through the store. Follow the arrows on the floor and you’ll go by bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and storage displays before coming to linens, kitchenware, and outdoor items. Little things that you come across can be placed in the huge shopping bags or carts provided. You don’t have to worry about filling out forms for those. Be careful, though, it is easy to turn into one of those kids in the checkout lanes lined with candy displays. You’ll begin to want everything!
After you follow all the arrows and fill in all the columns, you’ll come to the warehouse. This is where you will collect your large items. Everything is neatly stacked in cardboard boxes waiting for you to put on a flat cart, take home, and assemble using easy-to-follow picture directions (no reading German needed here!).
This is where you look at your completed form and match the Regal and Fach to the boxed items. In case you arrive at a row and number and find your dream cabinet isn’t where it is supposed to be, don’t fear! This is why you wrote down the product name and number. Computers are conveniently located throughout the warehouse. You can walk up to any one of them, enter the product information, and learn where the item is located. If this doesn’t work, the employee at the help desk is there to help you, take advantage of that help.
With your cart full, you are ready to check out. Well done! Now you can indulge in the Ikea restaurant. The meatballs are a well-earned treat.
To find an Ikea near you, you can visit ikea.com or ikea.com/de. Most Ikeas are open from 10:00
AM – 9:00 PM on Saturday and Monday through Thursday. Friday hours are 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM, and the store is closed on Sunday. You will want to confirm hours at your chosen location, though.